I’ve been writing fiction for a number of years now, and lately I’ve thought about the themes and the people I’ve been “creating” in my stories. I’m aware that they all come out of someplace in my very cluttered and mostly hidden mind, and I got curious about them all and whether they might have some meaning.
I’ve noticed that I write a lot about women and relationships with women. In Waking Up, the young narrator of “The Class” resembled me from sixty years ago, beginning to break free of the world my family had established for me. He was curious and skeptical, and somewhat dependent emotionally on his sister, who was a kind of surrogate mother to him. The girl he connected with saw him as more powerful than she, and more knowledgeable, the traditional male role. I recognized that relationship as similar to my own at that age, even though the details of the story were different from mine. Eventually in that book, their relationship developed and matured, but as his wife became more in touch with her own needs, the marriage became difficult. He reacted to his wife’s growth with panic at first, then (more or less) acceptance.
Osmosis was an entirely different kind of story. The main character was a woman, near middle age, struggling with feelings about her own history and relationships. But she is strong, and her relationship with the principle man in the story was one of equal strength, although she was much more emotional in her responses to him (emotion not necessarily being a sign of weakness). She even discovers the confusion between her maternal reactions to another young man and her recognition of unacceptable desire. In the end, she learns to accept these conflicting feelings and begins to will her own future path.
The short stories in the collection Lovers, Past and Never and the novellas The Guitar and Movie Group reflect differing kinds of women. Most, it seems, possess power in their relationships with others. Most are sensitive, intelligent and compassionate. One or two tend to be impulsive and intuitive. I haven’t begun any of these stories with a clear idea of who might populate them. I’ve described an initial situation and let the story tell itself, being myself entertained by events. Occasionally, I’ve felt some illumination on the processes of my own mind as those events unfolded.
Looking back, as it were, on these stories as illustrations of my personal relationships with women in general, I feel pretty comfortable. Particular cases sometimes have not been so comforting to me, and I have mostly passed over them in reviewing my writing. Perhaps at some time in the future I will have the courage to face those stories and figure out what they mean.
The truth is, women are crucial to my life as well as to my stories. Very few of my eighty-four years have been spent without a strong connection to a woman. Yet rarely have those relationships appeared in my stories, except for occasional literary fragments and, of course, memoirs. My use of first-person narration in some of my stories does not mean that those stories are any closer to autobiographical than the third-person narrations. It’s just the way they came out. Some people who know me well may recognize aspects of me in some of the stories. In retrospect, I sure do. But I haven’t tried to include or exclude such aspects. As I said, it’s just the way they came out. On the other hand, if anyone who knows me thinks they recognize other real people in my stories, I can only repeat from the copyright page, “The names and events portrayed in these stories are fictional, and any similarity to real persons or events is entirely coincidental.”